The world’s first high-power satellite employing an all-electrical propulsion system, Eutelsat 172B, has been successfully launched from Kourou, in French Guiana, manufacturer Airbus Defence & Space announced on June 2. The new satellite will provide broadcast, in-flight broadband and improved telecommunications across the Asia-Pacific region.
“We are the first company to demonstrate full electric propulsion for satellites of this size and capacity,” highlighted Airbus head of space systems Nicolas Chamussy. “With this spacecraft, we are clearly setting a new benchmark – enabling powerful and complex satellites to be launched in the most cost efficient manner.”
The development of Airbus’s all-electric satellites has been supported by the European Space Agency (ESA – which is completely separate from the European Union) and by the space agencies of a number of European countries. Particular support has come from France’s Centre National d’Études Spatiales (better known as CNES) and the UK Space Agency.
Eutelsat 172B will employ only electrical power for its initial orbit raising and subsequent on-station manoeuvring. The system involves using electricity, supplied by the satellite’s solar panels, to eject xenon gas at high speed. Another innovation on the satellite are two deployable robotic arms that will orientate its electrically powered thrusters to control the direction and attitude of their thrust during different missions phases.
A further innovation is a new multiport amplifier (MPA) which dynamically distributes the satellite’s power between its 11 spot beams, allowing it to provide Internet connectivity for airliners flying in the Asia-Pacific region. This means that it can allocate increased power to each of these beams as demand increases, resulting in better service for airline passengers. Airbus developed the MPA under the ESA’s Advanced Research in Telecommunications Systems programme and with the support of the UK Space Agency.
There was also innovation in the manufacture of the satellite. Some components were produced using Three-dimensional (3D) printing (additive layer manufacturing). One example is a 3D-printed bracket that is 35% lighter, and more rapidly produced, than the complex conventionally made part it replaced.
The elimination of the need to carry large quantities of chemical propellant can reduce the mass of a satellite by as much as 40%. Eutelsat 172B has a mass of only some 3 500 kg and has 13 kW of electrical power. It is equipped with three payloads. They are a C-band payload, a regular Ku-band payload and a high-throughput Ku-band payload, which provides in-flight connectivity along the air corridors across the Pacific.
The satellite is based on the latest model of Airbus’s Eurostar E3000 satellite platform, known as the EOR (for Electric Orbit Rising) version. Electric propulsion thus allows a customer to make significant savings in launch costs, or, for a given mass, substantially increasing the payload power.
The orbit raising manoeuvres of the satellite, which will raise it to its intended geostationary orbit, are being supported by Airbus’s proprietary Wide Angle Localisation Integrated System. This is a worldwide network of ground stations established by the aerospace company, which allows its engineers to control the orbit raising operation.
Created in 1977, Eutelsat, based in France, is the leading telecommunications satellite operator in Europe, Africa and the Middle East, and one of the world’s leading companies in this field, with 40 such spacecraft (including Eutelsat 172B). It also provides coverage of the Americas and the Asia-Pacific region. It plans to launch two more satellites next year and a further two in 2019. Airbus is not Eutelsat’s only satellite provider.